My Dogs Are The Reason I Don’t Need A Wheelchair

A woman suffering from two life affecting illnesses says that the reason she is not in a wheelchair is because she competes in the dog sport, agility with her dogs.

Joanne Craig, 30 from Bristol was born with hypermobility syndrome, a genetic illness which causes her joints to dislocate over 10 times a day. The second illness, fibromyalgia syndrome was triggered while Joanne was at university and means even the smallest of tasks can cause her immense pain.

Joanne who is a spokesperson for the Kennel Club's Get Fit With Fido campaign goes on to explain: "I was born with hypermobility  syndrome and was diagnosed as a child. It's genetic and my sister and some of my cousins are also affected, meaning our ligaments lack collagen, causing us to suffer constant repetitive strain injuries. My wrist, ankle, shoulder, toes and fingers can dislocate over ten times a day.  There is no cure for hypermobility and very little treatment to help.

"I've had surgery over the years in an attempt to correct my ligaments and I am currently on the waiting list for a ligament reconstruction on my right ankle and left knee, after having my wrist reconstructed last year."

At the age of 25, Joanne was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia syndrome which was triggered by a virus that she caught while studying at university. The illness affects her brain's perception of pain, meaning the slightest tap can be incredibly painful for Joanne and even her clothes touching her skin can cause pain.

With no cure for the illness and having to leave university, Joanne sunk into a downward spiral. Suffering other symptoms, including fatigue, memory problems and weight gain, Joanne felt incredibly isolated. That's when she got herself a dog and soon discovered agility.

Joanne explains: "I didn't cope very well - I became depressed and withdrawn and was at rock bottom. It was during these years I got my first dog, Josie. She really pulled me through and I started taking her to obedience classes - even though I found them painful and tiring it would be worth it when I would see her all excited and happy, wagging her tail.

"By the time she was 18 months old, I decided to give agility a shot. It was simply the best decision I have ever made. It got me a lot fitter, and although it is hard for me, my doctors and physio say to this day they believe agility is the reason I am not in a wheelchair as it helps me keep my muscles strong around my joints, making up for my more than useless ligaments."

Comprising various obstacles for dogs to run through, jump over, and weave in and out of, all against the clock, agility tests the dog's fitness and also measures the ability of the handler to direct the dog over the course. It is a great cardiovascular workout for both and as a fun sport it also increases motivation levels for dog and owner. The psychological benefits of being outdoors, exercising and having fun are profound, reducing stress and anxiety and dogs love the daily injection of fun into their routine.

Joanne walks her three dogs every day and takes part in agility training when she can. She has a range of different exercise options for when this isn't possible, including having a treadmill at home which the dogs are trained to use.

Joanne got involved in the Kennel Club's Get Fit With Fido campaign to spread awareness of the benefits of agility for keeping fit and healthy. She says: "For people who think they can't take part in this fabulous sport just because they have medical conditions, they are wrong. It really is the best thing I have ever done.  I've even made plans to continue in agility when I reach the stage that I have to use my mobility scooter permanently. I have already taught one of my dogs to run alongside it and will be teaching my other two over the next year."

Joanne returned to university part time and graduated in December 2011 and is currently completing her teacher training at the University of Bath. She lives in Bristol with her three dogs: Josie, a ten year old Patterdale Terrier, Poppy, an eight year old deaf Collie cross, and Murdoch, a two year old Toy Poodle.

The Kennel Club's Get Fit With Fido campaign encourages dogs and their owners to get fit together to improve both health and fitness. The Get Fit With Fido Challenge, launched this month, rewards the dog and dog owner who jointly lose the most weight, and the dog owner and dog who individually lose the most weight, with the help of exercising together.

To find out more about the Get Fit With Fido Challenge visit

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